I’m bringing sexy back. Them other boys don’t know how to act. -Justin Timberlake
Question. If you had the choice, would you rather be:
A) hot but with average wealth
B) Wealthy but average looking
C) Both wealthy and hot
Now if you’re like most people, you chose C. I mean, let’s be real, who wouldn’t want that. But what if you had to step out of this little dream world I’ve created, and you could only choose one of the first two options. Which would you choose then?
That’s a bit of a tougher choice. Some of you might be saying, “Well, average wealth might not be that bad. I mean, I could be poor.” Well, let’s take a look at what “average wealth” in Canada looks like today.
Average is Ugly
Statistics Canada recently released numbers that show the “average” Canadian owes $1.68 of debt for each $1 of disposable income (ex. if they have $1000 after spending on needs, they owe $1680 in debt)
- 33% of now say they are unable to cover their monthly bills and debt payments
- 48% think they’ll have to go into debt in the coming year to cover expenses
- 33% are concerned that the increase in interest rates could cause them to go bankrupt
- 20.4 million Canadians carry credit card debt
This is just a tiny snapshot of what “average” looks like. Average is ugly. It’s butt-ugly.
People in this financial predicament are all style but no substance. Or, as Thomas Stanley from The Millionaire Next Door described them, “big hat, but no cattle.”
Millionaires Look Average
Contrast these numbers with what the average millionaire’s finances look like:
- They have a net worth of 1 million dollars (kind of obvious, but stated for clarity)
- They drive a used car (read no car payment)
- They save & invest 20% of their income (read they have a boatload of money invested)
- The live in a house well below what they “could afford”
- They have no debt (no mortgage, HELOC, etc.)
- They live in a neighbourhood where 75% of the residents are not millionaires
- They live well below their means (on about 7% of their total wealth)
Before you think, well ya, but they probably had rich parents who handed them money and they didn’t have to work for it, let me stop you. The majority of millionaires are first-generation rich, small business owners. This means they built their own wealth with their good habits, discipline and patience.
These people do not stand out. You’d drive by their house and not think twice. You’d see them cruising in their cars and there would be no double take. They aren’t flashy, and they don’t stick out of a crowd. They don’t own big hats but they’ve got plenty of cattle. In other words, they are the exact opposite of sexy money. But they are rich.
Culture tells us what we should look like if we are rich. Look at Sean and Amy for example. They have a huge house, filled with expensive furniture and toys. They both drive fancy cars, the ones with oil changes as pricey as mortgage payments. They’re always clad in killer clothes, bought from stores most people have never heard of. When it comes to handling their money, they pay “a guy” who has designed a complex investing scheme, leveraging the equity in their home to pick hot stocks in complicated tax-sheltered accounts which post below-average returns.
Because they spend most of their money elsewhere, they don’t have much if any to invest, which is why the home equity loan was so “convenient”. Having these investments allows Sean to brag to his buddies when they all get together. In reality, they are DEEPLY in debt, and yet to an outside observer, they look VERY rich.
This “sexy money” is shallow. It is all style with no substance. They’ve patted themselves on the back so many times both arms are broken and they don’t even know it.
Substance…with a Dash of Style
Contrast that with the new sexy money. New sexy money is substance first.
Sure, there is some style. Their not pulling the financial equivalent of socks in sandals (how Jesus managed to go sockless is still a mystery to some dads). But their style never comes at the expense of substance.
Take Adam and Marie for example. Adam, Marie and all the other people embracing new sexy money live within their means. They haven’t given up lattes all together and they still go out to see movies. Life is meant to be lived after all, but not at the expense of other, more important goals.
Adam and Marie always pay themselves first, so that they ensure they’re always saving. They invest regularly in simple, low-cost index funds or ETFs. Their savings come out automatically each month into their retirement account, and often, since they don’t watch the stock markets daily ups and downs, they forget to check how it’s doing. They’re in it for the long haul, so they don’t lose sleep when the market slumps, and they aren’t doing cartwheels when it skyrockets. What counts are long-term results, and they’ve done the research to know their investment strategy is solid.
They have a monthly spending plan which they stick to, and they don’t have any consumer debt. They have a mortgage, but they were sure to buy a home well within their means, so it will be paid well before they’re retired. They’re saving for their children’s education, and they have money set aside in case of an emergency, about 3-6 months worth.
Now, culture tells us what sexy money is supposed to look like. But screw culture’s ideas. Culture has clearly gotten this wrong (along with a lot of other things as well).
The numbers don’t lie. And I don’t blame culture as much as the consumer mentality our culture has come to embody. Imagine if everyone woke up tomorrow totally content; the economy would collapse. Our society needs us to need more and more stuff. But it’s an empty, vicious circle. We want, we get, we go into debt. We compare, we cry, we buy. We go into debt. We want, we get, we go into debt. And round and round we go, on the merry-go-round from hell.
Just because culture tells us that we should think a certain way, it doesn’t mean we have to. In fact, it probably means we should take a look more closely and think differently.
Out with the Old and In with the New…Sexy Money
When I think of new sexy money, I think of someone at 55 (maybe even younger) who is living with no debt, financially free to use their time and money as they please. They are not a slave to anyone or anything. They are free. Free to give their time and money extravagantly. Free to enjoy the fruits of their labours. As Dave Ramsey says, they’ve “lived like no one else so they can live like no one else.”
Contrast that with what culture tells us is sexy money. Someone who has lived LIKE a millionaire for their whole adult life. And now, the chickens are coming home to roost. It’s a 55-year-old poser, who looks rich but is deeply in debt. He can’t sleep at night because he thinks about how he’s going to pay off the tens of thousands of dollars he owes, and he contemplates working until 70 to make the numbers work. The financial stress he’s been under for so long was a factor in his marriage breaking up. There were other issues, but the money made everything worse. So now he lives alone in his 4,000 square foot home. The silence of his past mistakes echo up and down the empty hallways.
We Get to Choose
It’s a no-brainer for me. I’ll take the new sexy money. But we can’t have it both ways, to look like we have sexy money but to actually be wealthy. It just doesn’t work that way, not for us or for the “ultra-rich”. Just think about the headlines we see on a monthly basis about some seemingly “rich” celebrity in financial trouble. We can’t have our soup and keep our mustaches dry.
Ironically, the new sexy money is really an embodiment of traditional values of money. The idea is old. It encompasses the type of financial principles your grandparents would’ve taught you.
Live below your means. Save often, both for the future and a rainy day. And don’t be wasteful. Live practically, with an emphasis on utility over flash. Invest with a long view of the future. If it seems too good to be true, it is.
We get to choose what we want to value, either flashy style, or tried and true substance. We get to make the choice. New sexy is really old sexy.
I’m choosing to bring sexy back.